I don't think any conscious American could have missed the flail over immigration that's been going on over the last few weeks. Conscious I may have been, but particularly thoughtful about it I haven't. Here in Rhode Island, as near as I can tell anyway, there's not much of a hotbed of illegal immigrants and, consequently, this issue hasn't seemed to have hit as many buttons here as it has in many other places. But Ms. Cornelius at A Shrewdness of Apes had a recent blog on the issue and I found myself reading and nodding my head - so I figured I'd join the discussion.
My wife's an immigrant. She came here a little over three years ago and I managed to somehow get her to fall in love with me (how I did this will forever remain a mystery to me, and I'll be happy with just counting myself VERY lucky), and we married two years ago. At this point she has her green card, an interesting trick given the time it took to get it (all together about 18 months), but I'm guessing it had something to do with the fact that she's a researcher at a fairly prestigious university and I'm an ex-military officer and otherwise all-round nice guy, factors that I'd hazard to guess tend to push the "Let's let her in" button a bit quicker. So she's legal, she didn't come here to escape oppression or to find a better life, in fact she had a position waiting for her when she went back home and God knows that's where the family she adores is, but she managed to meet me and, well, there you have it. It turns out that she was also taking a job that has been hard of late to find Americans willing to take, with American PhDs being on the decline over the years, but in this case that, too, likely worked in her favor vice against it.
Ok, we're talking about "illegal" immigrants. Now there's a distinction between legal and illegal, regardless of what some would like to otherwise make a case for. Let's go back to the start here in the U.S., with the Pilgrims who, a few would make a case for, were the first undocumented aliens. In fact the Pilgrims were not "illegal". In fact they were British citizens entering into what at the time was claimed to be British territory, with the permission of the British government, ergo by any standard of "legality" at the time they were quite legal. Now of course there were inhabitants here when they arrived who, in a manner of speaking, had first dibs and who took exception with the new arrivals, but back then "might made right" and they lost. After a government was set up here in the U.S., and territorial boundaries established, we gradually began to regulate who came into the country and got to stay. If you got in and you weren't vetted and given permission to remain, you were illegal, and that's what I'm talking about here, illegals.
I've had to wonder why Bush and company have been so big on this issue. Of course Oliphant in his cartoon above makes a good point - heck, 10 million illegals who are suddenly given amnesty make for a fair number of votes, no question about it. And then there's the business interests. The illegals work for a pittance, and they work hard for what little they get so they're just the sort of employees WalMart and anyone else supporting a business on the backs of its employees is just happy as a pig in manure to see. Such businesses get to keep the cost of employment low, and in turn the cost of what we pay equally low. Overall we benefit from this indirectly by paying less for what we buy, though as with many cases of paying too little for something the residual and largely hidden costs, or in the case of California, Texas, Florida, New York, and Arizona he "not so hidden costs" build up on the side and we pay for them through our taxes. But businesses love immigrants, and guest workers or illegal immigrants allow prices to be kept low, and money to flow into the pockets of the employer - how much more Republican can this get?
The last time we had a major to do over immigrants and granting an amnesty was some 20 years ago, and of course that was supposed to be the last time we were going to do such a thing. As with most such proclamations it was a smoke screen as those who could be expected to profit from it did, and the basic cracks in the system that allowed the illegals in to begin with never got the attention it deserved to fix the problem(s). So now it's 20 years later, and some 10 million or so illegal souls more, and we're talking about amnesty and then setting up a guest worker program, but then on the whole doing very little to fix the faults that create the problem of the influx of illegals. So what should we expect to have to do in another 20 or so years?
Part of the problem is our being able to manage our borders, and that's a real problem. I listened to an immigration activist go on about how none of the 9/11 terrorists had Hispanic last names, but there were many Hispanic last names amongst the American dead in Iraq and Afghanistan. That's great, but the point isn't that there have been Hispanic terrorists coming across our southern border, it's that if an uneducated Mexican can manage getting in how would a well-educated terrorist, of whatever ethnicity, fair?
Here's an interesting chart from USA Today, courtesy of the Pew Hispanic Center:
Of course there's the fact that Mexico has been such an economic basket case for so long that its people want to come here. When is that going to change, and why isn't more being done to help facilitate the change? I'm no expert, and maybe there's a lot being done, but this has been going on for a long time and things just don't seem to be getting better, and somehow those of
us who feel we shouldn't be absorbing everyone's displaced workers at the tune of about some 500,000 per year are told that there's something wrong with us, that we're not open enough, or generous enough, or kind enough, or ... well, you get the trend. This is, of course, a complicated aspect of this entire problem when one factors in globalization and all that, but somehow Canada manages to keep most of its people happy enough such that they're not making a routine run on our border, what exactly is Mexico not doing to cause this problem to be what it now is?
So maybe it's not nice of me, but this has to change, and we can't be encouraging illegal immigration by deciding every 20 years to say, "Hey, it's ok, you're here now, and the construction guy you're working for would be REALLY put out if we deported you, so you get to stay." I think we should also be doing more to stem the tide on our borders not because the tide is by and large Hispanic, but because we can't be sure what the tide is. And lastly, we should be doing more to address the problem at the root. I well understand that desperate people will do whatever they can for themselves and their loved ones, and we need to be doing more to help alleviate that desperation, but not by opening our doors wide every 20 years, and not by playing footsie with guest workers who really should be working at home and not giving business excuses for not paying decent wages and benefits, and better utilizing technology to address their needs --- but of course that doesn't garner 10 million potential votes, and would tend to piss off some big-money campaign donors.